Graven With Diamonds:
The Many Lives of Thomas Wyatt: Poet, Lover, Assassin, Spy
Paperback and eBook
Genre: Historical Biography, Poetry
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About the Book:
In this thrillingly entertaining book, Nicola Shulman interweaves the bloody events of Henry VIII’s reign with the story of English love poetry and the life of its first master, Henry VIII’s most glamorous and enigmatic subject: Sir Thomas Wyatt.
Poet, statesman, spy, lover of Anne Boleyn and favorite both of Henry VIII and his sinister minister Thomas Cromwell, the brilliant Wyatt was admired and envied in equal measure. His love poetry began as risqué entertainment for ambitious men and women at the slippery top of the court. But when the axe began to fall and Henry VIII’s laws made his subjects fall silent in terror, Wyatt’s poetic skills became a way to survive. He saw that a love poem was a place where secrets could hide.
I originally was excited by this title, for I am a bit of a Tudor junkie, and find the machinations and intrigue of the court to be an interesting study of human behavior. To add in the poetry of Wyatt: placing the poems into the context of their crafting was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Most poetry of this time was highly contextualized, and was not meant to stand the test of time, so deeper examination of the Tudor court, with the author’s ability to separate fact from fiction, and present the information in a format that is pleasant to read and that does serve its contextual purpose for the poems that are included.
While the book starts off with quite a bang, focus on the poetry and commentary provided by Wyatt through his poems documents the events in court; gossip, flirtations, intrigue and petty jealousies that are not documented in the more specialized record of diplomatic or court appointment books. However, Shulman does include this information in a way that only people familiar with Henry VIII’s habit of lopping off heads can enjoy.
Sadly, the book does tail off as Wyatt’s short life comes to an inglorious end as he dies quite young, even for the time, at 39. In the few years prior, we are embroiled in Wyatt’s attempts at diplomacy and espionage, and the sharp and well defined tone when poetry was at the forefront does diminish. The text reads far more ponderously and isn’t as well integrated with the bits of gossip or intrigue.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable book for the most part: the genius interweaving of the poetry and the context, finding specific stanzas and pieces of the poems that are oft quoted, reused and twisted as they pass from person to person in whispers and giggles. Shulman has a knack for bringing the past to life, and has accomplished that with few missteps.
I received an eBook copy from the publisher via Eidelweiss for purpose of honest review on I am, Indeed. I was not compensated for this review. All conclusions are my own responsibility.